Benjamin Franklin left his Puritan family in Boston as a teenager and came to Philadelphia for a new life. The Quaker city was flourishing under the charter of William Penn, which had given privileges and religious freedom to its inhabitants. Without wealth or an education, Franklin established a base in Philadelphia and found prosperity, initiating many of the young country’s civic institutions and along the way, creating a roadmap for the average citizen to advance and be successful. In his 2004 book “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life,” Walter Isaacson describes Franklin as “the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.”
Franklin lived, worked and died in Philadelphia and his legacy remains throughout the historic district. A prosperous printer, he helped to spread information throughout the colony. As a visionary, inventor and thinker, when needs arose, Franklin responded to them. He collected books and started organizations such as the American Philosophical Society, the Library Company of Philadelphia (the nation’s first lending library) and printed numerous publications so that anyone could have access to ideas. In 1729, he started the Pennsylvania Gazette, which became the leading newspaper in the colony. His Poor Richard’s Almanack became the most useful almanac in all of the colonies. In the 1730s, Franklin started the first volunteer fire company and became postmaster of Philadelphia. He also formed the nation’s first hospital, while attempting to uncover the mysteries of the earth with scientific discoveries.
After an exceptional career as a tradesman, scientist, and innovator, Franklin retired from his business at the age of 42 and spent the rest of his life serving Philadelphia and Pennsylvania as a statesman and diplomat, serving in many positions including member of the Philadelphia City Council and Pennsylvania Assembly. By 1753, he had become the leader of the dominant Quaker party in the assembly, who elected him as one of its delegates to the Second Continental Congress that met in the Pennsylvania State House in 1775, where the delegates from all of the colonies united on independence from England. That building is now known as Independence Hall. Believing that liberty and tolerance were the foundation for a civil society, Franklin committed to dedicating his life to what he would call “a miracle in human affairs,” the triumphant revolt against the most powerful empire in the world.
With a reputation as a world-renowned philosopher, Franklin was revered internationally and used his fame to his advantage. As part of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, he fine-tuned the seminal document, helped to fund the American Revolution with his own money and engaged the French monarchy, whose support was crucial to the American cause.
Philadelphia grew to be a seat of ingenuity as the largest city in America and a commercial and cultural hub, due in large part to Franklin. His industriousness and “can-do” attitude inspired countless others to follow in his footsteps. When he died, Comte de Mirabeau of France, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, called Franklin a “mighty genius” who was responsible for spreading human rights throughout the world, able to “conquer both thunderbolts and tyrants.” France’s National Assembly called him one of the “fathers of universal humanity” and his name “will be immortal in the records of freedom and philosophy.”
Centuries later, Philadelphia continues to celebrate what Benjamin Franklin represents – American pragmatism, hard-work, inventiveness, frugality and a rebellious spirit. Numerous buildings, monuments and institutions are named for him – like The Franklin Institute, located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. There is even a tree named for him (Franklinia) at Bartram’s Garden, America’s first botanical garden.
Walk among the life-size sculptures of those whose names are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution in Signers’ Hall at the National Constitution Center, which depicts the final day of the Constitutional Convention. Franklin was the oldest delegate.
Both Beethoven and Mozart composed for the glass armonica, which was created by Benjamin Franklin. See variations of Franklin’s instruments on display at the Benjamin Franklin Museum and The Franklin Institute.
“Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky,” 1816, by famed artist Benjamin West, commemorates the 1752 experiment where Franklin demonstrated that lightning is a form of electricity. West and Franklin were close friends. This painting is on display in the American Art Gallery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Travel up to the top of One Liberty Observation Deck to take a photo with Ben Franklin’s larger-than-life head. The Philadelphia skyscraper offers breathtaking views of Philadelphia from the 57th floor.
“The private life of the late Benjamin Franklin,” a rare 1793 copy of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography translated from French, is one of the prized gems held in the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. On display outside the Center is the desk that Franklin used to write his autobiography.